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  • by Alona Pulde, MD

Balancing Responsibilities

When I think of balancing responsibilities, I often feel a huge sense of overwhelm. As someone who likes to keep busy and get a lot done, I generously heap on to my plate until it is so full I sometimes don’t remember what I started with on the bottom. Taking a daily inventory of all that I hope to get done leaves my body feeling tight and tense from head to toe – like it’s clamping down and preparing for fight or flight. In previous blogs (see July 2019) we talked about this being part of “survival mode” and that is exactly where I find myself – working to get through the day rather than enjoying the process.

This is especially so come September with getting the kids back to school. From the relaxed schedule of summer we move into the regimented routine of the school year. Suddenly, I find an often-full calendar of my own now needing to be shared with that of my children. Getting to and from school, after-school activities, homework, birthdays and playdates and all with start times and end times and structure and expectations– OH MY!

It is exactly in the midst of this chaos that I practice one of the most valuable techniques I have learned to date – stopping to take a breath. How counter-intuitive to stop when so much needs to get done. But truly, the value of pausing is transformative. Why? Because it gives us a moment to reset and restore our energy.

Learning to reset and refocus our energy allows us to effectively manage and respond to our emotional experiences. And equally important, it allows us to adapt to our environment in a healthy way. This is a skill that can help us build resilience when we are disappointed, calm ourselves when we are stressed, and soothe ourselves when we are unhappy or uncomfortable.

Without it, like a child throwing a tantrum, we can unknowingly build up rage and anxiety, leading us to feel out of control and unable to cope. In this state, if we aren’t mindful, we can end up choosing strategies that harm us in the long run. Some examples include, substance abuse, violent behavior (physical or verbal), avoiding or withdrawing from challenging situations, and hurting oneself (which can range from negative self-talk to cutting and self-mutilating behaviors). These strategies often involve numbing out or distracting – both avoidance tactics that don’t address the core of the problem. And, because trying to forget or ignore our problems are only temporary solutions, we become dependent on them for a more continuous fix.

For those of us looking for a more permanent cure for managing responsibilities and resetting emotionally and energetically, there is another path that allows us to think under pressure, to persevere through difficult times, and to maintain flexibility and choice in how we show up for a given situation. With this approach, we are facing our challenges rather than running away from them. And through that process we build the confidence and self-love to trust that we can manage our emotions and change our environment.

Some helpful techniques for regulating emotions that simultaneously promote overall well-being include:

  1. Journaling – Writing down what we are thinking and feeling helps us to process our thoughts and can also aid in brainstorming new ways of responding at times of overwhelm. It also allows us to work through our emotions privately identifying the emotional triggers and behavioral patterns that don’t support our well-being. This awareness sets us up to develop coping strategies that help to release what no longer serves us.

  2. Breathing Exercises – Breath is life force and learning how to take a breath in a difficult situation can feel life-altering. Deep breathing helps us to relax, slow down and focus our thoughts. In this state, we are better equipped to make intentional decisions rather than reactive ones.

  3. Sleep – Getting adequate sleep is essential for feeling restored. In this space we feel resourced to cope more effectively. If you need more convincing, think of a time when you have had a number of things to do in a day and have been exhausted. When we are tired, we are less able to think clearly and react mindfully, in short we are just less able…to do anything really.

  4. Exercising – Movement, especially aerobic exercises like walking, running and biking, is beneficial for so many reasons including increasing energy, improving muscle tone and flexibility, reducing stress, and improving mood and self-esteem.

  5. Self-care – Checking your pulse first and noticing when you need a break - this may seem like a common theme in our blogs but only because it is essential for overall well-being. You cannot be effective if you are overwhelmed, under-resourced, exhausted, hungry, etc. I cannot think of a better analogy than the one we hear on planes all the time – when putting on your oxygen mask you need to put yours on first before helping others. This applies to all facets of life – if you are not taking care of yourself, you will not be available to truly take care of others.

  6. Engaging your community – It really takes a village. Despite social media and the immediate gratification provided by technology, more people are lonelier than they have ever been. We have hundreds of “friends” at the click of our fingertips but no one to call in an emergency. Sadly, I think we have forgotten what Helen Keller so simply yet eloquently stated “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.” If you aren’t already part of a community, get engaged, meet new people, make friends, and find like-minded people to travel your journey with.

Start with a breath and try one of the practices above to help you reset and refocus so you can enjoy and feel more refreshed on the roller coaster we call life!

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